Sacred Space



Indianapolis off Mare Island , on 10 July 1945


  In 1991, I was waiting tables at a delightful little place called Sirloin Stockade. (Or, as I preferred to think of it, Cow Prison.) One of the “unique” things about this joint was it had a Banquet Room where they could shove huge parties and then close the double doors so the sound could properly grow to epic proportions as it rebounded off the walls and windows.
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  It was early fall when I had the pleasure of waiting on my first BIG group all by my lonesome.
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  All of us servers were hiding in the waitress station, as usual, when THEY walked in. It was close to 50 people, all Senior Citizens.
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  Chip, the Manager made his rounds begging for volunteers to wait on them. Everyone “politely” declined since they figured they’d end up running their butts off for an underwhelming tip. Always the rebel, I shrugged my shoulders and announced, “Screw it! I’ll work the room!”
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  Chip looked slightly panic stricken. “By yourself?”
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  “Hell yeah.“ I was trying to psych myself up for this small feat of impossibility, determined to permanently nail my Super Server status. “Dude, what’s the worst that can happen? They get pissed because I’m slow and stiff me?”

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  Chip looked both worried and relieved at the same time. “I’ll help run food,” was his contribution to my impending adventure.
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  So, I took a deep breath, sucked in my gut, and entered the Banquet Room. The sound in there was DEAFENING! I was kinda taken aback by the concept of a group of rowdy Seniors. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

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  “Hi guys! My name is Chris. How are y’all doin?” I was walking down rows, passing our bev naps, and smiling pleasantly at everyone. That was when the first “incident” occurred.
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  I was bent over laying down a napkin when someone actually PINCHED my ass! I jerked up straight like I’d been shot and spun around, ready to unleash my razor-sharp wit and tongue on the owner of the offending hand, I managed to stop myself as I came face to face with a smiling, elderly gentleman. Who was giggling like a school girl.
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  “Did YOU do that!?!” I attempted to give him the “Mother’s Stink-Eye” I had been trying to perfect in light of the fact that I was now a new Mom. I don’t think it worked.
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  He simply grinned a little wider. “Nice hinny, Miss.” Did he seriously just say that? HO-LY CRAP!
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  As I stood there with my jaw hanging open trying to figure out how to process this odd situation, my other cheek was similarly violated. I jerked around again, only to be met with another old fart smiling at me, his wife by his side rolling her eyes in exasperation.
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  “Hey now!” was all I could think to snap in what I hoped would come off as a playful manner.
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  I finally recovered whatever “cool” I had and went back to getting drink orders. Can I tell you, the entire time I was waiting on these guys, I could not walk through the room without getting pinched at least twice.
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  The best part was when one of them was slick enough to discover I was wearing stockings and a garter. (Yes, my hatred of pantyhose is legendary. In my younger days if I was required to wear them by something as silly as State Health Codes, I’d always opt for garter and stockings instead. Besides, it made me feel all sexy-like.) After his discovery, the score went up to at least two pinches and one garter-snap with every trip. And those snaps? Hurt like HELL!
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  I was sort of in awe at these guys. They were loud. They were rowdy. They told some lewd-ish jokes and laughed like teenagers. The wives were sweet, tolerant, and even apologetic for their husbands and the whole group was awesome about my slow progress around the room.
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  I wasn’t even worried about a tip, since I was truly having a freakin’ blast with these guys!
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  After they had eaten and drank their fill and the tables were cleared, they literally passed around someone’s hat to take up a collection for a tip. These old guys? REALLY took good care of me. Maybe they figured I’d need it for icepacks for my butt and thighs?
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  That was when they politely asked me to leave the room and to not come back until someone from the inside had opened the doors. I was happy with this arrangement since it meant I could step outside and have a smoke.
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  When the doors opened and the group emerged to leave, it was a different set of folks that walked out. Their conversation was low, almost subdued, their smiles weren’t as big and had a hint of sadness to them. I saw more than one set of eyes red from crying, and it wasn’t just on the women.
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  I waved and thanked them for coming. I received tiny head nods and half-hearted waves in return. What the hell had happened to the wild butt-pinchers I’d cut-up with all evening?
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  “Chris?” I looked up to see an odd expression on Chip’s face. He looked…reverent. Sad, but definitely reverent, like he was contemplating a great work of art or something sacred. “Do you know who those people were?”
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  “Umm…some of the dirtiest and grabbiest old men I’ve ever met in my life? I swear, my ass is gonne be bruised for DAYS!”
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  He smiled down at me like a Dad trying to teach his child something important. “Those men were the remaining survivors of the USS Indianapolis. Those men are walking history.”

Survivors of Indianapolis on Guam, in August 1945

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  I took a minute to search for the right file in my history-impaired brain. And…came up empty. All I could say was, “Oh.”
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  Years later I sat on the couch in my living room, watching a documentary on the Discovery channel. The kids were all in bed and my hubby was at work so I had control of the remote.
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  The title, something about the USS Indianapolis, had caught my attention and brought back fuzzy memories of wrinkled grins and a sore backside.
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  An hour later I stared into space as the credits rolled across the screen, cold chills making their way up and down my spine. And I cried.
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  I cried for a tragedy that my mind couldn’t even begin to comprehend. I cried for the sacrifice that far too many made. I cried for everything those pinch-happy men had gone through just to make it back to their homes and loved ones.
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  And I cried because without even knowing it, a young woman had been given a rare gift and had been allowed to spend a few hours in the presence of greatness.
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  I finally understood Chip’s expression from all those years ago. Those men and their wives weren’t just walking history, to me they were walking Sacred Space.
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With mad pinching skills.
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**********
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  In 2012, there were 45 remaining Survivors. Of those 45, 20 attended the annual reunion.
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  In August of 1995, the USS Indianapolis National Memorial was dedicated. It’s located on the Canal Walk in Indianapolis, IN and in July of 2007, the USS Indianapolis Museum had its grand opening in the Indiana War Memorial Museum.

USS Indianapolis National Memorial
pic
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  Because of the crew of he USS Indianapolis and all the other men and women who have served in the Armed Forces, I am able to enjoy my life and my freedoms today. I can’t put into words the amount of gratitude I have for the sacrifices they made for their Country.

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Thank You!

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